We had the pleasure of interviewing Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency about her dual career as an agent and a YA author. Thanks for taking the time to share your insight with us, Joan!
AYAP: Which came first: agenting or writing? Can you tell us about your journey from one to the other?
AJP: I have been writing seriously with an eye toward publication since 2003, so that was definitely my first role in publishing. In 2009 a career turn made it possible for me to consider other “day job” opportunities, and I decided to take the leap into becoming an agent as well. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
AYAP: If you had to choose between being an agent and an author, which would you choose and why?
AJP: I really couldn’t choose just one. The two jobs fit different sides of my interests and personality, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also like how the two sides of my career each inform the other—I’ve learned a ton about writing from being an agent, and my agenting is certainly stronger for being a writer as well. Plus, it keeps life fresh, exciting, and never dull.
AYAP: Because of the knowledge you gain as an agent, do you find yourself writing toward trends?
AJP: I think writing toward a trend is a dangerous thing to do for anyone; I’m a firm believer in writing toward your passion, telling the story only you can tell. That’s my advice to my clients and it’s what I try to live by as well. With that said, I think there’s a certain level at which knowing the market and having a sense of what is broadly publishable (in terms of topic and idea, etc.) probably informs the way stories tend to come together in my head. Though I suppose in some way or another that’s true of all of us along the publishing path, isn’t it?
AYAP: Are you more editorial as an agent because you're also a writer?
AJP: I certainly am an editorial agent; these days a book has to increasingly be brought along to a pretty solid place before it can make it through a publisher’s acquisition meeting. So I definitely find myself diving right in there with an author to help get the work as strong and tight as we can before sending it out into the world. I love that part of my job!
AYAP: How do you avoid hearing your own writing voice when you read client manuscripts?
AJP: Oh, when I’m in agent mode I am in a very different place than when I am in writing mode. As mentioned above, I feel very strongly about writing toward things I am passionate about, deeply felt ideas and beliefs and questions I may be grappling with. And the characters I write come from a place inside me and grow with their own stories. When I’m in agent mode, I’m working to coach and shape and assist others on their work, and so my own writing voice or style or ideas don’t come into the mix at all.
AYAP: When reading submissions, do you find yourself gravitating towards the genres you enjoy writing in or styles similar to yours?
AJP: I think in submissions I’m drawn toward the type of things I enjoy as a reader. I’m a bit of a fantasy and science fiction buff, so that makes up a pretty big part of my list. I’m less enthusiastic about reading angsty, issue-driven YA, or historical projects, and so I choose to represent less of this. In an industry that is driven by a white-hot love for books and literature, that’s the way it works for a lot of us, I’m guessing!
AYAP: How do you avoid potential conflict of interest?
AJP: Well, for one thing I don’t act as my own agent! My agent handles all of my submissions, so my agent and writer modes are kept fully separate. With that aside, I do find that the different roles balance each other out pretty well. There are many ebb and flow times throughout the process of each one—when manuscripts on submission, during the endless waiting process, etc., where other work can be fit in amongst the cracks. Based on my experience so far, the two roles mesh together surprisingly well!
AYAP: What lessons do you take from agenting into your writing and vice versa?
AJP: I think there’s a real value to my clients in having an agent who has gone through and experienced many of the same hurdles and roadblocks that every one of us faces on the path to and through publication. And certainly for my part, working with such inspiring and phenomenal writers is a motivator, a challenge, and makes every writing day just that much brighter and more exciting.
About Ammi-Joan Paquette, Literary Agent
Joan joined EMLA in spring 2009 as an associate agent after working in the editorial area of educational software development, and was promoted to agent in fall 2011. In the last few years she has placed dozens of manuscripts with editors and is especially passionate about connecting with and launching the careers of debut authors. As the “East Coast branch” of EMLA, Joan works from her home office in Massachusetts, with long-distance support from the main Flagstaff office. She represents all forms of children's and young adult literature, but is most excited by a strong lyrical voice, tight plotting with surprising twists and turns, and stories told with heart and resonance that will stand the test of time.
When she is not on the phone, answering email, or writing, you will most likely find Joan curled up with a book. Or baking something delicious. Or talking about something delicious she’s baked. Really, after books and food, what else is there worth saying?
About A.J. Paquette, Author
A.J. Paquette has been writing stories since early childhood. She and her sister would spend hours creating masterpieces of stapled paper and handwritten words, complete with pen-and-ink covers and boxed illustrations. Probably her favorite part of the process was creating a list for the back cover: "Don’t miss the other books in this series!" That list of eye-catching titles always seemed like way less work than (hand) writing out a whole book. But isn’t that just the way of things?
The road to publication was long and winding, peppered with many small successes including: a variety of national magazine publications, being a 2005 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award honoree, and receiving the 2008 SCBWI’s Susan Landers Glass Scholarship Award, for the book that would later become Nowhere Girl. Her first picture book, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, was published in 2009.
She now lives with her husband and two daughters in the Boston area, where she continues to write books for children and young adults.
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About the Book
Fans of James Dashner's Maze Runner series will love this post-apocalyptic adventure about a girl who must survive an alien planet in order to save the Earth.
Ana only knows her name because of the tag she finds pinned to her jumpsuit. Waking in the featureless compartment of a rocket ship, she opens the hatch to discover that she has landed on a barren alien world. Instructions in her pocket tell her to observe and to survive, no doubt with help from the wicked-looking knives she carries on her belt. But to what purpose?
Meeting up with three other teens--one boy seems strangely familiar--Ana treks across the inhospitable landscape, occasionally encountering odd twists of light that carry glimpses of people back on Earth. They're working on some sort of problem, and the situation is critical. What is the connection between Ana's mission on this planet and the crisis back on Earth, and how is she supposed to figure out the answer when she can't remember anything?
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